Friday, February 13, 2009

Hey, this guy proves my point!!!

Check out this video by a SAG actor...

This guy is the middle actor that I described in my prior post that details the three levels of actors in Hollywood. The point of his video is that the entire entertainment industry is moving towards the internet. Since the other guilds have allowed non-union work on "webisodes", he claims that webisode production has boomed as a way to avoid the guilds.

Maybe. But the internet is not a proven market. I was recently discussing a project that would be a web based series based on one of my films. The amount of money to do 20 3 minute webisodes did not translate to the amount of money we spend on Sci-fi channel originals and their ilk (about 20k per minute for network TV versus 3k per minute for the webisode). How can one define the cost of labor, or the value of the product when the marketplace has yet to shape up and define a profit? Making a webisode, of any budget is a huge, huge, risk. So to say that someone is getting ripped off here is pretty naive and myopic.

I don't blame the guy. This thought process, or lack thereof, is spreading around the country like wildfire. Look, he's an actor, not an accountant and certainly not an entrepreneur. He doesn't understand the business, nor the fundamental structure of capitalism and risk of investment. For many independent films and webisodes, the sad reality is that these union members who are bitching about their rates and residuals are the only people who DO get paid. The investors, producers, and other creative folks who pour much more time and effort into a project to make it happen often walk away with nothing. And sure, sometimes these films and shows hit the jackpot. Sometimes a bunch of kids from New Jersey make a movie in the 7-11 where they work for 20k and it makes 20 million. But those stories are needles in haystacks. More often than not, it's a couple hundred thousand dollars thrown down the money hole, with actors, grips, camera guys, prop guys etc. being the only ones to walk away with a few measly bucks. Trust me, I know. Before I got smart and sold out doing genre films I made two independent comedies that still haunt me to this day. I can't count the thousands of dollars and countless YEARS of my life spent with these projects. The net result for me was experience and a bit of exposure. But every actor, on both projects was paid at least SAG scale with their pension and welfare, OT, etc.

And here is the other dirty little secret the socialists and unionists don't want to tell you. What would happen if the unions did all go away? Would actors be paid like Walmart Employees? Well, if they we working for me, the answer would be yes. No, kidding. Here's what would happen, and I know this because I have real world experience to prove it.

Actors as a whole, on average, would be paid much less. But individual actors would be paid exponentially MORE. Why? Because right now there is no bottom line incentive for producers to hire no name actors and pay them any more than we have to. The buyers across the board don't really care who your cast is outside of the "names". We, as producers, feel like we are getting ripped off by having to pay someone to be the bartender $500 for eight hours of work to deliver two lines (and in many cases, producers ask us writers to cut out parts to save money, which creates EVEN FEWER ACTING ROLES). So, how good you are or how aggressive your agent or manager is becomes irrelevant. Unless you have a name, I'm paying you scale. BUT, if there was no scale, if I could pay people whatever I want (within federal and state minimum wage laws mind you), it would free up a ton of cash. We would have more parts and, if an actor that blew us away came in and we really like them, we would negotiate and pay them more to do the show. Remember, just because a breakdown says the pay is $25 a day doesn't mean you have to do it. I routinely turn down directing gigs because the money isn't what I want it to be. Should the Leigh Scott market enter a downturn, I would change my tune and work for less if I needed to.

What's more troubling about this video is the notion that somehow the unions "allowed" these productions to exist. Webisodes are booming because a lot of the other markets are drying up and people are looking to be the first to stake out some online real estate. They would exist regardless of what SAG, IATSE, WGA etc. say or want. The notion that one private entity can dictate terms to another private entity is un-American and wrong. I hire SAG actors because the name actors stand in solidarity with the union. There would be no other reason for me to deal with the incompetent and ineffectual organization known as the Screen Actors Guild without this caveat. Unless you are in a similar situation, or have a predisposition to support organized labor, the choice to go union or not should rest 100% in the hands of the people taking the financial risk.

Payment, residuals etc. must be based on the market and by determined by the people putting up the money. Period. After all, why stop at scale being $500/day? Why not make it $1000/day? Maybe $10,000/day? Hey, if the rates get good enough, a lot of us producers might just pack it in and become actors.

And when we all do, who's going to be left to produce the movies and cut the checks? This my friends, is the core principal of capitalism. THE FREE MARKET. It's what made our country great!

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